Fight, flight or freeze

You often hear people mention the biological fight-or-flight response to all sorts of threats and how this still keeps kicking in now that most threats in our modern lives are no longer physical, which means that the action-readiness – to fight the sabertooth tiger or run away from it – never gets converted into physical activity.

That’s what often causes a great deal of unhealthy stress, the kind that sets these destructive biochemical cascades in action that are so hard to stop. That is also one reason why it is good for people to exercise and to dance, particularly the way Meredith Grey and her friends used to do on Grey’s Anatomy when their stress levels had become too high.

Shake it off, shake it off, oh oh.

A few days ago, I read that freezing is a third option in that same scenario, as part of that same old mechanism.

Freezing is something that politicians and business leaders often do when they’re under attack. When people sling mud at them. They stick their heads in the sand, pretend nothing is happening and wait for the problem to blow over.

It does not come across as strong and noble, does it? And it is not wise from a PR perspective either.

Most of us prefer to be action heroes of one kind or another.

But I can’t help but wonder whether the freeze response could be less stressful for the body. It probably does not prime the body for action as much as the fighting or fleeing response does.

Freezing is a state of physical paralysis, though, so it also strikes me as one of powerlessness. Is it also one of less awareness? I am not prone to freezing, but the one time in my life that I did freeze, which was in my teenage years, people had to push and pull me into physical activity.

Yeah, it comes across as negative, as less powerful, but if you work with it and learn to use it as an alternative to the usual fight-or-flight response, you may end up having the calm of a zen Buddhist when everyone else is running around like headless chickens and stay healthier. (That is not the same as sticking your head in the sand and pretending it isn’t happening.)

That takes time to develop, though.

So in the meantime, dance. It is either that or cry.

I just realized that this – dancing it out – has probably kept me sane for decades because I probably already did this as a teenager. I danced with headphones on at all hours, also cheerfully exercised to music at all hours. I started running when I was still in primary school.

I stopped doing both of them some years ago. Not good.



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